"A Beautiful Body" — photos and essays of American mothers

January 7 | Guest post by Jade Beall

Editor's note: many of the images below depict partial nudity, and may be NSFW

All photos by Jade Beall.

She stood barefoot with a fresh pedicure showing blood-red toenails on the white paper backdrop in my downtown, air-conditioned Tucson studio. She lifted her loose blouse over her head with shaky hands, tears welling in her honey colored eyes. She was petrified. Not only had she never shown a stranger her most vulnerable secrets that her clothing effortlessly hides, she had never been photographed nude. She was determined despite her fear to help me shape a new definition of beautiful for herself and for countless other women in our culture.

She, like the hundreds of others who are coming together for my project "A Beautiful Body" are my Super-{S}heros. Together, we are creating a body of work that could be called nothing short of incredibly beautiful.

I have heard hundreds of stories now. Anorexia, childhood bulimia, the mother told her she was too fat to be a ballerina, self-hatred, self-suffering. Feeling unsexy because she perceived her nipples as imperfect, feeling unsexy because she lost too much weight after breastfeeding. Feeling like there was something deeply wrong with her because she only lost five pounds nine months after the birth of her second child. Mourning the loss of her un-suckled breasts. Sexual abuse, self-inflicted abuse, teenage and young adult drug addictions due to self-loathing because she never felt beautiful; breast cancer after the birth of a long-awaited pregnancy, loss of a baby at birth with a wrinkly tummy to remind her everyday of what might have been.

There can be so many stories shadowing a woman in our culture. We are, however, also incredibly blessed with tremendous amounts of freedom and the ability to shape-shift concepts and ideas in our country. We have the ability to feel worthy, to believe we are beautiful and to be a part of a community of people who wish to share beauty and joy in this world.

Three months ago, I knew I had to do this project, "A Beautiful Body," after writing and photographing a blog about my post-birth body. Only now is the combination of my hard work and the courage of these timid and fierce women who have offered themselves and their stories that I am fully seeing the true magnificence this body of work holds for our culture of women and men.

I knew that untouched nude photographs of American Mothers would be… cool, maybe rebellious and possibly somewhat unprecedented. I had no idea, however, that it would be so utterly breath-taking as it has begun to take shape. It's actually not until this very moment as I type these words, with my fussy six-month-old baby nursing from my sensitive sore nipple and wringing the saggy flesh of my forearms, that I am beginning to understand this exhilarating feeling: being vulnerable as a collective and wanting to shed pain and birth praise to authentic beauty.

It is true for most of us, I'd say: we want to feel interconnected to each other while laying down the swords of name-calling and comparison.

I am sharing with you a photo sampling of a few dozen courageous American Mothers (minus their essays). These are not the final images that will appear in the book. I hope they serve as a peep through the keyhole of our magical universe and hopefully inspire you to feel beautiful, just as you are, untouched, un-airbrushed.

There are so many stories and so much pain. What many of us have forgotten, however, is that Pain is the twin sister to Joy. Pain is one of the best sources of energy eagerly awaiting to be recycled into something magnificent: into Beauty.